This journey started in the Eastside of Detroit in the 80s, and still runs today in its twisty path.
TL;DR – the kid who loves sports turns into an athlete, and later, turns into a sports journalist.
But of course, it can’t be that easy, especially if you are female. I was lucky to be born at the right time, with Title IX giving me opportunities to experience many sports from an early age. I grew up in sports-mad Detroit, where the women are as die-hard fans as the men. And I lived in a media market, especially the newspapers, where many women were writing about sports - way before the rest of the country.
I’ve always been a sports fan and an athlete. I’ve always been the girl in a space where I knew the boys were dominant, an omen for my future professional life.
There were zero girls my age in my neighborhood. So, if I wanted to play, it had to be with the boys, in their worlds. Like Star Wars, a super big thing to play while running around outside. Of course, I wanted to be Han Solo, not Princess Leia. Han did cool stuff; he blew shit up and threw side-eye. Harrison Ford. Not whiny emo Luke. The boys, wanted the girl, me, to be the Princess. But Leia, at that point in the Star Wars canon, was the helpless lady with a hairdo that looked like a tie-fighter tribute. If I had known she was a Jedi, I may have reconsidered my position. So, thanks George Lucas, for denying Leia’s full awesomeness to Gen-X kids.
Anyways, I was a good athlete and held my own with the boys. My parents encouraged my younger brother and myself to try a lot of things. Soccer. Tennis. Skating. Accordion lessons (yeah, not my favorite). Basketball. Piano. Choir. Even a kooky summer art camp where we made pottery snakes in a funky old house in Detroit.
My heart kept coming back to sports. I loved watching the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings. I learned the Lions suck. The Pistons got their act together by the end of the 80s and were our heroes, even if the rest of the country thought they were mean and nasty. Lies. All horrible Boston Celtics-driven LIES. Long live Rick Mahorn.
I blended playing tennis in college with preparing to be a sports journalist. Practice and play during the morning; study and work on the journalism during the rest of the day and night.
Turns out, I can hold my own against the boys on the court and in the newsroom. I’ve run around the world to cover the Olympics, soccer World Cups, NCAA Final Fours, tennis, golf, hockey, and the NBA for places like ESPN, The New York Times, The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, The Detroit News, USA Today and other outlets. I’ve also written five sports children’s books, and another, Back in the Game, on concussions, athletes and youth sports.
The Forrest Gump montage of my professional life takes me in person to see the U.S. win the 1999 Women’s World Cup at a packed 100,000-plus Rose Bowl, my hometown Red Wings and Pistons winning their championships, Rafa Nadal’s clay court genius at Roland Garros in Paris, and Olympic highlights of the Chinese losing their minds over LeBron James and Australians crying in the stands after Aboriginal star Cathy Freeman won gold in Sydney.
So that is my world. Sports. Athletes. Competitions. Winning. Losing. Deadlines.
I am here to share all of that with you. But Open Court is not the newsletter for the hot takes, ooh-let’s-burn-the-losers’ noise. Things can be more civil, and guess what…in my world, they will be.
Call this the slow take. The let’s-be-smart-and-real take. We will make Open Court a strong and special community to talk about things, think about other parts of the world, laugh, get angry, and just be together.
Open Court is designed to tell you more. Sports is a true mirror to our society. We see business, medicine, law, gender, race, sociology, social constructs, technology, and the other moving wheels of our lives all come together on a field. Crazy but true: sports are normally much about other things outside of sheer competition.
Athletes lead long lives outside of their competitive glory days. What happens then?
Who are the people we should be talking about, but don’t —like Paralympians or non-revenue sports — because they don’t fit in the narrow spotlight of sports coverage?
Are concussions the end to your sports career?
And that is where my curiosity goes to…the spaces and places we don’t look at enough.
I want to talk to the people involved, sit back, and listen to them, and then try to tell their stories well.
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to hide from the world and each other, we turned to sports for relief. We watched re-runs of classic games and matches, delighting in seeing the ending we knew was coming. The joy of winning, or seeing our favorite team lose yet again, was a fresh experience. We were thinking about all the things we were missing, like the 2020 NCAA tournament or the last summer’s Olympics/Paralympics in Tokyo. We started playing e-sports more. We looked for new ways to workout at home. For me, my life changed in December when I discovered iFIT, and GASP, turned into a workout junkie. Two words: Rivs and Peel. Three more words: 60 pounds gone.
Our bottom line is simple. We watch sports. We play sports. We talk sports. We debate sports. We use the symbols of our favorite teams as strength, pride, and tribe building. We read, listen, and engage with sports.
We don’t have to be good athletes. Our opinions don’t have to be right. Our numbed hearts, which we all carried from time to time over the past 18 months, came back alive when we saw the Masters or the local high school get back on the soccer field. We connect as people because we all live as emotional beings that care.
We now will also connect in our Open Court.
So now that you know a little about me and the thinking behind this newsletter project with Facebook, here’s what you can expect from Open Court:
• There will be a fresh and free newsletter sent to you every Monday, around noon. Look for that in your email box. Feel free to spread the word and share the newsletter.
• Special newsletters will pop in on occasional Fridays, with interviews and interesting stuff with active and retired athletes, and the things we need to talk about more in-depth.
• I am far from a stick-to-sports person. I will definitely delve into things I ponder: Why do cats rule the interwebs? Why does BTS, the Korean mega boy band, rule the world and bring me so much joy? How do college athletic departments get away with never interviewing women for Athletic Director or men’s sports coaching positions? Why can't I remember the Raiders moved to Vegas and are not in Oakland anymore? Can tennis genius Nick Kyrios keep his drama together for two weeks to win a tournament that matters? Why do chefs cover good food with the devil herb cilantro?
• We will do chats, Facebook Lives, and other fun stuff. Get ready!
What I ask of you: 1) Subscribe to Open Court (see the button at the top of this page). It’s free. 2) Let me know what you think. Please comment on this page, about ideas/suggestions of things you want to read about. Remember, this is a community – not one-way traffic. 3) Follow my FB journalist page at Joanne C. Gerstner for more good stuff. 4) And lastly, putting a not-sorry plug in for an amazing journalist/author and an even better friend, Amy Haimerl. Subscribe to her newsletter (belonging.bulletin.com) for profound reporting on what it means to belong in America today.
Time to break our huddle.
Let’s go play.